Going to college is a right of passage for many adolescents. It is the beginning of new experiences and new friendships, but it is also a time of extreme anxiety and stress. What classes should I take? How many classes can I handle? Will I make friends? Many will adapt to the new trials of college life, but some will struggle with new personal freedom, motivation, and homesickness.
Oftentimes students don’t see the entire equation when preparing for college. In addition to demanding courses and a new environment, students must grapple with adapting to life without their traditional family structure. Understanding some of the core challenges will help new students thrive at college.
Classes are larger in college, and many new students aren’t prepared for lecture style classes and a general lack of personal attention from a professor. Students may become disinterested and fall behind in the course load. Students soon learn that attendance is optional for many classes at college, and coupled with seemingly distanced professors, their attendance rates may drop as a result.
Tip: Students should seek out study groups or a tutor if they are starting to fall behind in a subject. They should also pick class schedules when they are most alert. For example, 8 a.m. classes are a struggle for many night owls.
Class time and commitment are major time management issues for students. Course loads are around 15 hours per week, which means students could spend as little as three hours a day in class, much less than the 6-8 hours spent in high school. New college students have an incorrect assumption than non-classroom time is free time. This perception of leisure time leads to poor time management decisions and poor study habits. The pressure is further compounded when a student is a collegiate athlete or has a job. Time management skills are critical for incoming students as they set up habitual study habits for the following terms at college.
Tip: As students adjust to their first semester at college, they should not overload their schedules with too many classes and/or extra-curricular activities until they feel comfortable with the demands on their time. Students can also reach out to guidance counselors at school if they feel their workload is too difficult or should be adjusted.
One of the hardest things about college that many students aren’t prepared for is self-motivation. College thrusts many new freedoms on a student and sometimes going to class becomes low on the priority list. When there is no one making you go to class, eat a balanced diet, or even telling you to shower, students sometimes lack the self-discipline to do these things for themselves.
Tip: If you grapple with motivation, create a reward system for yourself or enlist friends and family to keep you focused. If you are really struggling with motivation, don’t hesitate to seek help from a counselor or other service provider at your school.
Despite all the benefits going to college provides, many students complain of homesickness. Once the newness of college starts to wear off, the reality of the first year away sets in: course loads, making friends, exams and part-time jobs. Students start to miss home cooked meals, mom’s laundry service, and other familiar family rituals. This is a natural feeling, and the best medicine is for the student to reach out to home as often as they need it or have family try to visit them at school. Small slices of home will help the student get through the tough first semester.
Tip: Set a reliable schedule for family communication. Communication through video will make you feel the most connected. Bring a piece of home back with you to college like videos or pictures of your favorite things.
College presents a student with a new world of challenge and adventure, but it is not without its pitfalls. Struggling students should realize there are safety nets in place provided through dorm resident advisers, school counselors, tutors, and the occasional call home. They are not alone in their feelings but must reach out to this network of friends, family, and professionals if they need it. Going to college is one of the most exciting times of a person’s life and learning how to adapt to your time there will help with much harder challenges in the future.